Wednesday, November 14, 2018
 Foodmakers Backing $1.4 Billion Food-Safety Bill  

By John Fritze

More than a dozen companies that lobbied Congress on a sweeping food-safety bill had recalled their food products in the past two years, including for food-borne illnesses lawmakers are targeting.

But many of those companies, such as agribusiness giant Cargill, which recalled 8,500 pounds of ground beef in August, and Campbell Soup Company, which pulled 15 million pounds of SpaghettiO's with Meatballs off shelves in June, support the tougher regulations proposed in the measure, headed toward a vote in the Senate.

Consumer advocate groups credit the companies and others in the industry with helping to make the $1.4 billion measure one of the few bills moving quickly through Congress during the year-end, "lame duck" session that began Nov. 15.

"At the end of the day, it represents a compromise all parties are happy to see move forward, " said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel with Consumers Union, which also backs the food-safety bill.

The legislation would mandate Food and Drug Administration inspections of facilities with the highest risk of contaminating food once every three years. The measure would also give the government broad power to issue mandatory recalls rather than relying on private companies to act voluntarily.

Sparked by recent outbreaks of food contamination, including this year's recall of 550 million eggs suspected of salmonella contamination, the bill also includes provisions that would let officials better trace food-borne illnesses to their source.

Large foodmakers, including those faced with recent recalls, say the bill provides clear regulations that even the playing field among competitors. When it comes to recalls, most companies will pull unsafe items whether or not the government requires them to do so, Campbell's Soup spokesman Anthony Sanzio said.

"We want the FDA to have the authority and resources it needs to ensure that the U.S. food-safety system remains one of the top in the world," Sanzio said. Campbell's spent $142,000 lobbying Congress on food safety and other issues this year, disclosure reports show.

The House of Representatives passed a more stringent bill in July 2009 that would impose registration fees on food processing plants and require more frequent inspections. Disclosure reports do not detail what companies are specifically seeking to change in the legislation. Several companies said they did not try to water down the bill.

"Our involvement was more in terms of monitoring what's going on," said Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill, which spent $1.2 million lobbying in 2010.

Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America said that the House version contained provisions that food-safety advocates preferred but that some of those ideas failed in the Senate. More frequent inspections, for instance, would cost taxpayers more — a hard sell given the recent emphasis on spending cuts.

"We would have liked to see stronger inspection frequencies because that's important to basic oversight," Waldrop said. "But the fact that the industry has been supportive ... shows the broad array of stakeholders that are behind this bill."

The bill cleared a procedural vote in the Senate with bipartisan support Nov. 17. If the Senate passes its measure, it's not clear whether the House would send it to the floor for a final vote or demand a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two versions.

Either way, the legislation is moving faster than other proposals the Democratic-controlled Congress has lined up to complete before Republicans take over the House next year, including expiring income tax cuts, immigration issues and spending bills to keep the government running.

For ConAgra Foods, supporting the food-safety bill was a no-brainer. ConAgra recalled the Marie Callender's brand Cheesy Chicken and Rice frozen meals in June after a handful of people affected by salmonella reported eating the product. The company spent about $300,000 on lobbying efforts this year. "If this bill was on the books, it wouldn't have changed anything about the recall," said ConAgra spokesman Jeff Mochal. "Our own standards are already higher."

Source: USA Today

Posted on Monday, November 29, 2010 (Archive on Monday, December 06, 2010)
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